My Aunt Margit

Margit Paris (Died 1977)

My only aunt, Margit, was the sister of the Paris twins, Elek and Emil. Like them, she was born in Prešov-Solivar in what is now the Republic of Slovakia, but at the time was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and under Hungarian administration. Like them, she was abandoned by her parents at the end of World War I in the middle of a famine. The three siblings did what they could to survive under difficult conditions. In 1929, they were able to come to the United States and joined their parents in Cleveland.

Although Margit never married, she single-handedly owned and operated May’s Bridal Shop in Garfield Heights, Ohio. She lived in the back of her store, though I believe she spent most weekends with my Uncle Emil in Novelty, Ohio.

I used to enjoy visiting the store, even though I was put to work. Aunt Margit handed me a magnet and had me use it to pick up pins from the fitting room floor, of which there were usually hundreds. When I was done, I sat admiring her calendar. Her insurance company put out an annual calendar that featured color engravings from Currier & Ives. The calendar part didn’t interest me at all, but the budding book collector in me coveted the Currier & Ives engravings. She didn’t know it at the time, but instead of buying me clothes at Christmas time, I would have been happier with one of her old calendars.

A Typical Currier & Ives Color Engraving

When she retired from the bridal shop in the mid 1970s, she bought a house in Florence, South Carolina. It was a bit of a surprise to me, as Margit was always close to her brothers.

When I went with my parents to Hungary and Czechoslovakia in 1977, I flew back from Europe earlier. The news that awaited me after my return was that Aunt Margit had died. I rushed to send a telegram to my Dad in Budapest. They couldn’t get back in time for the funeral, so I decided with my brother Dan to attend the funeral in their place. Afterwards, my Mom told me that Dad was totally broken up by my telegram and was agitated that he couldn’t be there for her. Dan and I figured that would be the case, so we were both happy to honor our aunt with our presence on this sad occasion.

She was a sweet and kindly person all her life, and we all missed her.

 

A Gift from Our Father

Look Closely Lest You Be Fooled

This happened years ago while my brother and I were still in Cleveland. Our Dad had gone shopping at the West Side Market for various Hungarian provisions and came back with gifts for us. He had been approached by a street vendor who sold him two “hot” watches that had “fallen off a truck,” a Bulova and a Hamilton. Dan and I looked at the watches and laughed. The Bulova was actually a Bolivia; and the Hamilton, a Hormilton. I still have the Bolivia, which ceased working decades ago. It appears that the watch vendor had made a profit on the deal.

Although our father felt like a fool for buying counterfeit watches with a one-jewel movement that may function for upwards of two weeks, I cannot recall thye incident without once again feeling affection and a sense of loss. Alex Paris died in 1985 at the age of 74—which, coincidentally, is my present age. I think of him frequently and cannot look in a mirror without seeing his face looking back at me. I have been told I look more like my mother, but there is still a lot of Alex in me as well.

For an interesting old Popular Science article on counterfeit watches written back around the time my father found his bargain, click here.

 

Caught Between the Warring Twins

Emil, Margit, and Elek Paris

The following post appeared on my Multiply.Com blog site on January 16, 2011.

It’s been a while since I revisited my past. This time, I’m going back into the period before my birth. The above picture was taken at some point in the 1930s and shows the Paris twins, Elek (Alex) and Emil, and their sister Margit.

Can I tell which one of the men is my father? Probably, it is the one on the right, because my father Elek was always better tanned and more athletic but not so well dressed as Emil. Even later in life, I sometimes had to wait for them to start talking before I recognized them, because they had very distinctive voices.

Elek and Emil could never live far apart from each other. When Emil bought a condominium in Hollywood, Florida, my Dad followed—in the same Carriage Hills condo complex. My father died in October 1985; and Emil died a few months later, of pretty much the same combination of diabetes and heart failure. At my Dad’s funeral, Emil was visibly shaken, as if his world had been taken away from him.

All their lives, the two twins competed through their children. Dad had the two sons, my brother Dan and myself; Uncle Emil had a son and daughter, Emil Jr. and Peggy. At times, the competition got bitter, especially when my cousins faltered in school and in their personal lives. Dan and I, however, always liked our cousins and regretted any bad blood between the brothers. They were just that way.

Margit was a different case: She never married. I don’t even know whether she dated very much or even wanted to marry eventually. Some years after this photo was taken, she opened May’s Bridal Shop in Garfield Heights, Ohio, and lived on the premises spending her time sewing bridal gowns. My job when visiting there was to pick up fallen pins with a magnet. I would also look with admiration at all her old calendars with Currier & Ives illustrations.

I don’t remember when Margit (whom we called Nana) closed the shop and retired to Florence, South Carolina, but I think it was in the early 1970s. She didn’t last very long because, shortly after I returned from Hungary in 1977, I got a call that Margit had died suddenly. The timing was unfortunate, as my parents were still in Hungary visiting. So I notified my brother and the two of us attended the funeral—after sending a telegram to Dad in Hungary. He was very broken-up that he couldn’t make the funeral in time, but was grateful that Dan and I went.

Whatever the competitiveness between the frequently warring twins, I always felt that my Uncle, my cousins, and my Aunt loved us for what we were. Although Margit was closer to her brother Emil than to Elek, that never impacted on the next generation. I did feel, however, that my Dad had never said certain unkind things about my cousins that I wish he hadn’t. Cousin Emil was always good-hearted and frequently protected me from neighborhood bullies when I was a little shrimp of a kid; and Cousin Peggy was, I always thought, incredibly cute.

A life is always strange when one looks at it all of a piece. I cannot help but feel that I have grossly oversimplified the complex web of interrelationships that existed among us. The important thing is that I accepted the few bad things because they were more than made up for with kindness and love. Elek, Emil, and Margit now exist inside of me; and all the conflicts have been resolved.

 

Identical Twins

My Father, an Unidentified Friend, and My Uncle Emil

This photo was taken long before I was ever thought of, probably in he late 1930s or early 1940s. Both Paris twins are shown: Elek (Alex) on the left on Emil on the right. There were times as I was growing up when it was difficult to tell one from the other, but here, it is clearly my Dad on the left. What’s the giveaway? My Dad was always a bit scruffier than my Uncle, who in this picture is actually wearing spats over his shoes and, in general, is more stylishly dressed. Unfortunately, I inherited my father’s sense of style and have always been described as scruffy.

The Paris twins were born in what is today Prešov-Solivar  in the Republic of Slovakia. When they were born in 1911, it was merely a province of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, primarily under Hungarian administration. Although Elek and Emil chatted in Slovak whenever they wanted to hide something from me, both of them were more comfortable speaking Hungarian.

They had a hard life because they were abandoned my their parents in the famine that struck the area after the First World War. They had decamped to the United States, while Elek, Emil, and their sister Margit had to fend for themselves in the foothills of the Carpathians around their town. They were aided in this by an aunt, Dorcsa, whom I met in 1977. Much of the time, they hunted for mushrooms and frogs to feed themselves. In 1929, the family was reunited in Cleveland, Ohio; but there was always bad blood between the parents and their children.